The Indian Army is no longer what it used to be. It changed from 1990 onwards, when the focus shifted to counter-insurgency operations, and the Generals have only themselves to blame for having reduced the Army to a glorified paramilitary force
Perhaps the Western Army commander Lt Gen Kamal Jit Singh has not read the famous speech of Lt Gen George S Patton. In an impromptu address to his soldiers of the United States Third Army in 1944 before the Allied invasion of France during World War II, Patton said: “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. You won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”
And here is Gen Singh, who recently while addressing the students of the elite Lawrence School of Solan, explained the humongous losses of soldiers fighting insurgency in Jammu & Kashmir by saying: “The officers laying down their lives are far more in the Indian Army than other Armies, as we are trained to lead from the front.”
I have issues with Gen Singh’s remark. Unlike other armies, officers and men of the Indian Army are dying fighting a proxy rather than the real enemy. The Pakistan Army, which pushes the terrorists to fight the Indian Army, doesn’t accept their dead bodies. It did not do so during the 1999 Kargil war, or after the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, or any time since 1990 when insurgency erupted in the disturbed border State. Patton would have called the Indian Army’s officers, who consider themselves front-leaders, as ‘the other poor dumb’ people.
The next issue is about leading from the front. In tactics reminiscent of World War One, why must our officers lead from the front doing hand-to-hand combat with proxies when possibilities of hitting the real enemy deep exist? What are the Special Forces and Ghatak (commando) platoon of infantry units for? Why have we kept the artillery when it cannot fire? The General would say that such actions might lead to war for which the Army does not have permission from Delhi. So, shouldn’t the Generals manning the front (like Gen Singh) and those sitting in the Army headquarters walk up to the Prime Minister and say that we are losing officers and men in the war we cannot win? The Army needs an identifiable enemy to combat with honour, and win. If the Generals cannot stand up for their command, who will they stand up for? Themselves?
To make matters worse, cadets training to become officers no longer do the traditional infantry tactics at the Indian Military Academy and Officers Training Academies. They are instead being taught counter-insurgency operations as if it were the Army’s raison d’être. So, on becoming officers, young leaders are not certain if preparing for conventional war is why they are there. To confuse further, Generals have instituted medals and honours for those dying in counter insurgency ops, euphemistically called No-War-No-Peace environment.
Soldiers dying in counter-insurgency operations are one side of the coin. The other side, equally dreadful, is living with the fear of death and unknown, day and night, without respite. The number of ambushes, night patrols and guard duties that soldiers do in freezing temperatures is nerve racking. A few years ago, GOC, 25 Division told me with a tinge of pride that there was zero infiltration in his area because most of his troops barely slept at night. This is precisely the reason why soldiers are losing faith in their officers; there are increasing cases of indiscipline and soldiers running amok in units doing counter-insurgency operations.
If this was not enough, the accruing results are not heartening. In 2007, before the 2008 Assembly election in the State, the GOC, 19 Division, Maj Gen Ramesh Halgali had told me that terrorism was under control and the Army should soon take the call on going back to the Line of Control to face the Pakistan Army. This did not happen. Instead, each year the Generals make the case for increased infiltration, to continue with the job they are comfortable with. In 2015, it was GOC, 15 corps, Lt Gen Subrata Saha who said that the increased infiltration has been checked. In 2016, his successor said the same.
The response to this from the Army leadership is be two-fold: First, it is for the political leaders to decide how the Army is to be used. Sure. But shouldn’t the Army advise them that with increased conventional threats, the paramilitary should be made responsible for CI operations? The Kargil conflict situation where the Army and the paramilitary forces were suddenly thrown into a situation they were not prepared for should not happen again. It is an open secret that Generals prevailed upon the irresponsible Defence Minister AK Antony in the Manmohan Singh Government to not withdraw the Army from CI ops.
The second response is of bravado: Who, but the Army, can do CI ops best? No one doubts this. But what about the job of preparing to fight wars? Remember Operation Parakram. On the one hand, the Army lost over 1,000 soldiers without firing a shot because no one had checked the reliability of the stored land mines. This was because genuine training which should involve troops had not happened; the last such was perhaps Exercise Brass-tacks in the 1980s. Exercising senior commanders with minimal troops and notional ammunition salvos makes for good perception management. But, it does not worry the enemy.
On the other hand, the failed Operation Parakram where India blinked first blunted the Army’s capabilities. While the Army would put the blame on the political leadership for not giving the go-ahead in January 2001 when the Army was supposedly mobilised, the truth is that the then Northern Army commander had told the Army Chief that he needed time for war training and capability building.
The Army leadership was expected to stand up and seek military reforms after Operation Parakram. It did the opposite by making a stronger case for doing CI ops. This is not all. The Generals saw this opportunity for empire building by scaring the political leaders with the prospect of the two-front threat. Without consulting the Air Force, and without any combined threat assessment with the Air Force and the Navy, they sought a new strike corps for the mountains (high altitude) against China. While no one asked them where and how the Army would strike in high altitude where survival is a challenge, the Government now is at its wits end to balance finances between paying the increasing numbers in the Army and getting them war withal for combat.
Specific to Gen Singh, he was earlier quoted by the media as saying that the Indian Army would take the war inside Pakistan faster than it could do before. Given his responsibility on the Pakistan front, he was referring to the creation of the new South-Western Command and 9 Corps, and the Cold Start doctrine. What he said is not true.
By the Army’s own assessment, it hopes to do shallow penetrations, where possible, against Pakistan. Given the state of own preparedness, Pakistan’s possession of tactical nukes and a plethora of long range ballistic and cruise missiles, Pakistan military’s interoperability with the Chinese forces, and the dreadful scenario of Chinese working on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor getting killed by Indian artillery fire, Gen Singh’s assurance ought to be questioned at the highest level. Unlike politicians, the General should not have made such a statement. Or perhaps, too engrossed with CI ops, he could be unaware of Pakistan’s rise in military capabilities.
So, when Gen Singh told the students that, “Your character should be strong and only then you will be followed by the people,” he did not realise that the young minds do their homework. The Army is no longer what it used to be when Gen Singh was commissioned in the 1970s. It changed from 1990 onwards and the Generals have only themselves to blame for having reduced it to a glorified paramilitary force. Let’s hope the new Army Chief will not follow in his predecessors’ footsteps.